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'Whoever sold Matic needs sacking. I'd have chained him to the dressing room door'

It’s probably fair to say Phil Neville would not have sold Nemanja Matic to Manchester United.

Image: Martin Rickett

“IF WE KNEW the problem, obviously we would change it.”

That was Antonio Conte’s assessment of Chelsea’s newfound predilection for shipping goals after Roma laid waste to his side at the Stadio Olimpico last night.

Chelsea’s defence was consistently cut to ribbons by Stephan El Sharaawy and Diego Perotti in particular, with both attackers consistently scything through a particularly soft-looking midfield before exposing serious frailties in the Blues’ rearguard.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, however, Phil Neville propounded a different theory to the Chelsea manager, indicating in no uncertain terms his belief that Chelsea’s woes are far from inexplicable.

“One word,” said Neville. “Matic. It’s as simple as that for me.

“The minute they sold Nemanja Matic, and I hate going over old ground, but when you’ve got Matic sat in front of you with Kanté – who’s been player of the season the last couple of years – you have the best two central midfield players in the Premier League by a country mile.

Why they sold him…whoever made that decision needs sacking, because it’s the poorest decision I’ve seen in the Premier League. To get rid of somebody… He’s not over the hill, he’s still got loads of football, he’s still got loads of quality.

“You ask those Chelsea players now who would they rather have in their team who’s missing,” Neville continued. “Forget anyone else in world football, they’d say: ‘give us Matic back.’

“Bakayoko is not that player that’s going to do the same job as Matic. There’s a massive hole in that midfield at the moment. Cesc Fabregas is not a holding midfield player to play in a two. He plays in a three. He’s got to play a little bit looser with protection behind him.

And they didn’t replace Matic. Whether he wanted to go or not, I wouldn’t have left him out of the building. I’d have chained him to the dressing room door and said: ‘you’re not going anywhere.’

Simultaneous to Chelsea’s drubbing in Rome, Matic played a major role in Manchester United’s opening goal as they overcame Benfica to stand on the precipice of reaching the Champions League last 16.

The Serbian’s rasping shot from all of 30 yards came back off the right-hand post but ricocheted back into the net off teenage goalkeeper Mile Svilar’s back.

Svilar’s own goal was the second such calamity to befall the 18-year-old in as many games against United after he carried a speculative Marcus Rashford free-kick over his own line in Lisbon, and arrived after he had saved a penalty from Anthony Martial.

United and Matic visit Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the Premier League this Sunday.

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